Authors Guild letter to DoJ complains agency pricing settlement will harm publishers, readers

The time to submit comments to the DoJ about the proposed price-fixing settlement has ended, and the Authors Guild filed its own comments on Monday. Publishers Weekly has a post containing the full text of the rather lengthy open letter from Executive Director Paul Aiken, as well as some commentary.

There’s not a whole lot that’s new in the Authors Guild’s position from the various editorials of theirs we’ve covered over the last few months, but it does go into a considerable amount of detail as to what they see as Amazon’s domination of many areas of the publishing marketplace: predatory pricing on frontlist e-book titles, removal of buy buttons during print-on-demand or publishing contract negotiation disputes, convincing Overdrive to redirect public library patrons to Amazon’s servers for e-book checkout, acquiring exclusive publishing rights to a number of popular literary franchises, and giving away e-books for free (even without the publisher’s permission) to Amazon Prime subscribers.

Aiken writes:

Amazon’s tactic of selective predatory pricing of frontlist e-books was far more anti-competitive than the Justice Department has acknowledged.  It effectively cut brick-and-mortar retailers – logical participants in a bricks-and-clicks, showroom approach to marketing e-books – out of the game.  The retailers would need a partner willing to invest substantial amounts to develop and market an e-reader, e-commerce site, and accompanying software.  What partner would dare invest, with Amazon plainly willing to earn little or nothing from e-books?  (Google’s commitment to independent bookstores always seemed half-hearted, and now it’s backing out.) From Amazon’s perspective, the best competitor is one that never dares enter the field.

He exhorts the Justice Department to find a way of addressing the collusion that does not give Amazon free license to continue its destructive behavior.

I must admit, I’m curious now what the Department of Justice will do after having received so many comments, many of which complain that Amazon is the real villain of the piece. Will it say, “Thanks for letting us know how you feel,” and then continue as it was anyway? Or might the terms of the settlement be amended to be less amenable to Amazon? It’s kind of hard to see how the DoJ could allow the publishers to continue using agency pricing given that their implementing it all at once was the whole thing the DoJ didn’t like to begin with. Part of the point of a remedy is to undue the perceived harm that’s been done, after all.

I suppose we’ll just have to wait and see what happens.

About Chris Meadows (4156 Articles)
TeleRead Editor Chris Meadows has been writing for us--except for a brief interruption--since 2006. Son of two librarians, he has worked on a third-party help line for Best Buy and holds degrees in computer science and communications. He clearly personifies TeleRead's motto: "For geeks who love books--and book-lovers who love gadgets." Chris lives in Indianapolis and is active in the gamer community.

2 Comments on Authors Guild letter to DoJ complains agency pricing settlement will harm publishers, readers

  1. So what they are saying is that Amazon is evil for giving readers what they want?

  2. I sent a letter to the DOJ with my anecdotal experiences of ebooks published by agency publishers purchased from Fictionwise prior to April 1 2010 and the current price at Amazon. Because I was able to cherry pick my purchases with the wonderful Fictionwise sales, I would have had to pay 4 times as much today at Amazon, than I did at Fictionwise. The list price of the books at Fictionwise was slightly higher at Fictionwise, primarily because I was able to buy a lot of newly released books with huge micropay rebates. If I were to hold off buying the new releases until they dropped in price (which I do today), the BPH ebooks are about 30% more expensive than Fictionwise 2-3 years ago. And this is primarily just the books I purchased with credit cards, if I included all of the ebooks purchased with the micropay rebates, I suspect that I would end up paying more like 6-7 times as much now as I did back then. I don’t know how B&N/Fictionwise made a profit, I don’t think they made any off me. On the other hand, it was a great loyalty program, I never bought anything from Amazon back then.

    The DOJ can decide that Amazon is doing illegal practices to maintain their ebook monopoly. If so, they have various options, like suing Amazon and making it spin off all of its ebook publishing business. But it’s legal to have a monopoly because you’re simply better than the competition.

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